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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Transition Thoughts & Reflections - Z

If I were to get up from my computer right now, leave my apartment, get in my car, and drive to New Orleans, it would be hard for me to get there. I’ve never been to New Orleans. I don’t know what roads to take. I don’t know the safest way to get there. Or, if safety isn’t my concern, the fastest. Or the cheapest. But I do have one helpful piece of information; I know the name of the place I’m going is “New Orleans”. That means I can follow road signs, use GPS, or maybe call someone who lives there and ask for directions. At the very least, I’ll know when I hit the city limits.

Male-to-Female and Female-to-Male transition is like this. It is a long, difficult, sometimes perilous journey. But we know how we want things to be; we have some idea how we want to look and sound, how we want the people around us to respond, and what our lives should be like. We know our destination.

But what if you needed to get to New Orleans only you didn’t know it was called “New Orleans”. How would you get there? How would you know you had arrived?

This is the journey my friend Z is on.

(see more of Z's spectacular writing at Chartreuse Flamethrower)

- Renee

Transition is hard. All of it is, but the social aspects can be the hardest. Even for people who have "good" genetics that allow them to easily be read as the right gender, there are many things that have to be worked on. Trans people often have to relearn how to walk, talk, stand, dress, and all these other things that most people don't have to think about after they hit age 5.

Even with quite a few guides online about how to do all these things, it's still difficult. But what are you supposed to do when you need to socially transition to something that, as far as most people know, doesn't even exist?

For many people with non-binary genders, that's the situation. For people who can't fit into either "male" or "female" with ease, the path carved out by the brave trans people of the past who decided they would stand up and fight for the right to be themselves doesn't always lead to the right place. Having a gender that doesn't fit into the current system is completely uncharted territory. The rules don't fit you- there's no pronouns, no titles, no speech patterns, and few clothes or hairstyles that are considered "unisex" (if unisex is what you want). There isn't even a set body that people expect you to be in.

And it's pretty much impossible to pass. Sometimes people will trip over themselves trying to figure out whether "he" or "she" is right (and not bothering to just ask), but the best most people can hope for is a roughly even split of he & she or a look that can easily be changed to adjust how people read you. But there are no guides on how to do this, it's a delicate balancing act that depends on everyone you meets' perceptions of gender. Depending on how much your social dysphoria effects you, this can either free up your presentation or be an extremely painful reality.

If it's painful, it can also be hard to find support and acceptance that might help. Even within the trans community, I've seen a range of reactions to my gender from playful disregard to outright attacks on my humanity. With therapists, who you'd hope would be kinder, there's no real guarantee. The DSM-IV doesn't acknowledge non-binary genders (it's possible the V will, but who knows), so neither does WPATH and most therapists go by that. I've had a gender therapist tell me that my gender is nothing but a pathology based on non-existant trauma (yes, I'm sure)- that there was something wrong with me because, if I started T, I'd want a similar GRS to what trans women get.

Most people barely understand transgenderism in general, without getting into other genders. Getting the correct pronouns is next to impossible. "They" is "grammatically incorrect", "it" is offensive, s/he is unpronouncable and "he or she" is a mouthful, invented pronouns are complicated. It's not hard to understand why so many non-binary people who can be comfortable without transitioning decide not to tell anyone. It's also not hard to understand why so many who aren't comfortable end up transitioning to the opposite sex (as Norrie mAy-Welby did) in the hopes of finding some comfort. I only know of one surgeon who's willing to do GRS to something other than male or female, and getting the greenlight is pretty difficult (I also asked the only person I know of who got surgery with Dr Bellringer, it paid for its surgery itself due to the UK postcode lottery even though transsexual surgery is usually covered by NHS).

So some of the questions regarding transition are a bit different for us. "What do I want?" and "What am I willing to give up to get it?" are still there, but with different considerations. "What do I want?" is a bit more difficult, because there are no guidelines. It can be very difficult to figure out what body you'd be most comfortable with, if it's even possible medically to get this body, and how much it would cost/if the professionals around you would allow it to happen. Socially can be a bit more tricky as well. Whether or not you'll be gendered correctly is rarely up to you, but up to the perception of strangers and the willingness of the people who know you to respect your wishes. So what you can get is probably out of your hands, but what you want (in that ideal world where no one is ever misgendered and everyone is respectful of each other's preferences) can still matter.

I have some of the answers. Top surgery, for me, was a no brainer. Ever since puberty hit I knew that those things that had started growing on my chest weren't supposed to be there. But other parts of transition aren't as easy. I don't know how if I want to start testosterone, if I'll ever be able to be seen as anything but female without it, or if I can come to terms with being seen as female for that not to be a concern. But I don't need to have the answers right away- there's no time limit on transition or finding your own path.

Trying to navigate the gender binary that's currently in place has always been tricky for me. The way people fit into gender compared to how I do often feels like a complicated dance routine that I just can't figure out, so I end up awkwardly trying to copy the fluid movements that are ingrained habit to everyone else. I think I've stopped trying so hard since realizing it's alright not to, but it can still be difficult. Everyone expects a binary gender to come just as naturally to me as it does to them, and can be fairly confused/angry/disturbed when you don't.

I'm still trying to detangle how I want to relate to gender versus how I'm expected to relate to gender, which I think is something most people have to figure out at one point or another.


  1. Great post! I know many people who are in situations similar to where you are. I admire your and their courage to be yourselves in the face of a lot of misunderstanding and potential danger. Transitioning from one accepted pole to the other is easy compared to charting your own path. Best wishes on your continuing journey!

  2. (I want to mention, the person who transitioned with Dr. Bellringer, its preferred pronoun is 'it'. I probably should have made that more clear. :) I do know a couple of people for whom 'it' is preferred, so I try to use that)

    Thank you, Veronica!

  3. As with Veronica, I admire your courage to be yourself. Nice post, Z. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    Calie xx

  4. I have just come back to re read the post. It was a little uncomfortable because it reminded me so much of the unclassifiable in between place where I lived most of my life, I have said that I prefer it if people can't get the correct pronoun now, most of my life I was it! For a long time I was trapped there though fairly comfortable, I can see why some would prefer to exist there rather than be thought to belong to one of the regular teams. I was never picked for teams!

    Caroline xxx

  5. Several years ago, when I attended my very first TG Health Forum in Philadelphia I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of GV and TG people there. Besides the sheer numbers of people, it was the VARIETY of people that was so stunning.

    To understand what a culture shock this was for me, one needs to remmeber that I had spent my entire adult life living the life of a "normal" middle class married gal with no children. I had not not thought about "trans" issues in over 30 years.

    So after a day or two of attending workshops and seminars and trying to get got up on the new PC terminolgy, I was starting to at least understand that while a great deal had changed, mostly things had just stayed the same, but gotten more complicated. TG was a new word that had many varied meanings and "trans" was also another new word that was also somewhat ubiquitous in its meaning, butthat was being used quite alot.

    Then on top of this there were these,(for me), really exotic people that called themselves Gender Queers. As hard as I tried, I could not for the life of me decipher their sex OR gender.

    I finally went up to one and started a conversation. I left that seminar thinking that these GQ people, were the straightest pepple there. They knew who they were and seemed pretty pleased with that.

    For me, if it worked for them, it worked for me. My feelings is just be comfortable in your own skin, and enjoy the ride.


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